Posted in Witnessing

Who’s Really in the Dock?

C.S. Lewis on evangelizing:

“…the difficulties which a man must face in trying to present the Christian Faith to modern unbelievers…is too wide a subject for my capacity or even the scope of an article. The difficulties vary as the audience varies. The audience may be of this or that nation, may be children or adults, learned or ignorant.”[i]

Therefore, the first step in sharing the faith is KNOWING YOUR AUDIENCE.

C.S. Lewis on the language barrier:

“…the difficulty occasioned by language. In all societies, no doubt, the speech of the vulgar differs from that of the learned…The man who wishes to speak…must learn their language. It is not enough that he should abstain from using what he regards as ‘hard words’. He must discover empirically what words exist in the language of his audience and what they mean in that language…Our problem is often simply one of translation.”[ii]

Therefore, the second step in sharing the faith is KNOWING THEIR LANGUAGE.

C.S. Lewis on the attitude of people:

“The ancient man approached God (or even the gods) as the accused person approaches his judge. For the modern man the roles are reversed. He is the judge: God is in the dock. He is quite a kindly judge: if God should have a reasonable defense for being the god who permits war, poverty and disease, he is ready to listen to it. The trial may even end in God’s acquittal. But the important thing is that Man is on the Bench and God in the Dock.”[iii]

Therefore, the third step in sharing the faith is KNOWING THEIR CONDITION.

Offering Clarification…

This final observation by Lewis is an important one. He identifies that one of the key issues when sharing the faith is an underlying attitude prevalent in all people. What is it? They want to be judge. They want the final say of what is true vs. false. They want to the be the arbiter over God; whether He is real, whether He is legitimate, whether He is worthy, whether He has a right to be acknowledged, worshiped, adored, and served.

The idea that God is in the Dock is that before fallen persons God is on the witness stand. He stands trial before humanity, and humanity will determine whether or not He is to be acquitted. The individual sinner wants to be on the Bench. He wants the power of the gavel. He wants the final say in all things holy, loving, righteous, and good. He wants to be the definer of such things.

The finite desires to weigh in on the infinite. And the underlying assumption is not that God is innocent, but guilty. The unbeliever starts with the presupposition that God is wrong, and man is right.

Wrong Assumption…

The only critique that I would offer to Lewis’ thought is that he assumed that this was the condition of “modern man.” We make the same error when we assume that this is just the problem with “post-modern man” in a “post-Christian world.” The only thing post-Christian about this world is that ground we seemingly gained in the past appears to be lost; whereas, ground that we never had before (e.g. communist China or even Iran) is being gained by leaps and bounds. However, we fail to see that because we spend far too much time looking at the end of our noses, wallowing in self-pity. When we should be doing the hard work of breaking up fallow ground (i.e. removing the rocks and weeds that we’ve allowed to grow in our despondency).

A Needed Reminder…

Lewis was wrong that this is a “modern” problem. The entire movement of the Christian faith has been in facing those who would deem themselves worthy of judging God. Have we forgotten our history? Have we forgotten what they did to our Lord?

I’m not speaking of just Jews in the 1st century, but Gentiles (foreigners) in the 1st century as well. Did they not convene in secret? Did they not place themselves in the Bench, while Jesus stood in the Dock? Did not “the kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed…” (Psa 2.2)?

Actually, we can go farther back in history. We can go back to the beginning (Gen 3), do we not see the same attitude prevalent in Adam? Do we not also find it in his son Cain (cf. Gen 4)?  Are you then surprised that when you present the gospel that you find opposition? Sometimes downright hostility?

Are you so arrogant to assume that you must present evidence, upon evidence, upon evidence in order to allow the sinner to judge their Creator? Are you wiser than the prophets? Are you more knowledgeable than the apostles? Have you not read? Have you not heard?

Isa 40:10 ​Behold, the Lord GOD comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him.

Isa 40:11 ​He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.

Isa 40:12 Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand and marked off the heavens with a span, enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure and weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance?

Isa 40:13 ​Who has measured the Spirit of the LORD, or what man shows him his counsel?

Isa 40:14 Whom did he consult, and who made him understand? Who taught him the path of justice, and taught him knowledge, and showed him the way of understanding?

Isa 40:15 Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are accounted as the dust on the scales; behold, he takes up the coastlands like fine dust.

Isa 40:16 Lebanon would not suffice for fuel, nor are its beasts enough for a burnt offering.

Isa 40:17 ​All the nations are as nothing before him, they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness.

Isa 40:18 To whom then will you liken God, or what likeness compare with him?

Isa 40:19 ​An idol! A craftsman casts it, and a goldsmith overlays it with gold and casts for it silver chains.

Isa 40:20 ​He who is too impoverished for an offering chooses wood that will not rot; he seeks out a skillful craftsman to set up an idol that will not move.

Isa 40:21 Do you not know? Do you not hear? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?

Isa 40:22 It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to dwell in;

Isa 40:23 ​who brings princes to nothing, and makes the rulers of the earth as emptiness.

Isa 40:24 Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown, scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth, when he blows on them, and they wither, and the tempest carries them off like stubble.

Before you share your faith, think. No, don’t dwell on your own thoughts; dwell on the Lord’s. Before you share your faith, take time to know your audience, learn their language, but above all understand their hearts. Take care when sharing your faith to first and foremost consider the God who made you, who redeemed you in Christ, who raised you by the Spirit’s power. Realize that before God it is the world that is on trial: the creature, not the Creator. Sinners before the Holy One, and the only hope of our salvation is an acquittal that He alone can offer in the living work of Jesus Christ.


ENDNOTES:

[i] C. S. Lewis, God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics, ed., Walter Hooper (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1970), 240.

[ii] Ibid., 242, 243. Lewis use of “hard words” is learned speech to uneducated ears. It is akin to a medical doctor giving you a diagnosis when you have not been trained in the use of medical language. The job of the speaker is to aid the listener in understanding the message being communicated to them. The error occurs in communication when you assume that your hearer is trained to pick up on various key terms that have meaning to you, but not necessarily to them. In order to be effective Christian witnesses we need to learn what our hearers understand about reality, how they convey that truth in their day-to-day speech, and then filter our words through that common tongue.

[iii] Ibid., 244.

Posted in Attributes of God, Beliefs, Christian Perspective, Communication, dialogue, Knowing God, love, Personal Testimony, Theology, Witnessing

False Ideas and the Idols we make: Witnessing to a Witness

Opening Thoughts…

Historically one of the first major heretics to arise out of the Christian faith was a man by the name of Marcion (2nd century; taught 140-155 A.D.). He denied many of the writings of the New Testament (hereafter N.T.) that seemed to share too much affinity with the Jewish faith of old. He took issue with the God of the Old Testament (hereafter O.T.) because he did not like the wrathful version of God he saw there. He looked at Jesus as the exact opposite; a person who was kind, good and loving. A version of this man’s teachings, based upon the same faulty assumptions, is still existent today.

When people read the N. T. this false veneer is presented on their interpretation of Jesus of Nazareth. He is portrayed as non-offensive and non-combative; a kind, loving, beggarly individual that would never say anything mean (he’d never want to hurt a person’s feelings) or sarcastic (he’d never want to cause contention with people). For many, the version of Jesus many people hold to today (even professing believers) is not compatible with what we read in the O. T. description of Holy God. It is often said, “Jesus loved everybody unconditionally.” Did he now? Is that really how He is described in the N.T.?

Witnessing to a Witness?

Yesterday, I had a forty-minute dialogue with a Jehovah’s Witness. He was attempting to invite me to a meeting they were having—a memorial service to the Last Supper. As he explained to me their position I politely listened. After he was finished I asked if he understood what the true meaning of the Last Supper was. “Well, to remember Jesus’ life,” he said. “Why is that important,” I asked? “What purpose did the cross of Jesus serve? What necessity did the blood of Jesus meet? To whom is His sacrifice applied, and what does it accomplish?” Besides his immediate detour on a discussion of whether or not the “Roman cross” was really a cross or “a stake,” he struggled with answering the questions I posed.

He said, “if you would only come to our meeting, then you would know our position.” In response I asked, “If I come to your meeting, would I be permitted to speak?” He shook his head and said, “no…you couldn’t do that, but won’t you be open minded, and just listen?” “If you did,” he added “you’d see the similarities that we have in our thinking.” Again I inquired, “Would you go to a seminar that atheists were holding and listen to them with an open mind?” Immediately, he said, “No, of course not!” “Why,” I pressed “for you would find that there are some things that you share in common with the atheist. There are things that they hold to that are common to all people.” He said, “But, they do not believe in God.” “Ah,” I said, “and herein lay our dilemma. You would suggest to me that I ought to go to your meeting to listen to what you have to say with an open mind. I could listen to what you have to say, just as I can listen to what an atheist has to say, because I am confident that by the Holy Spirit I can discern the truth from error. However,” I stated “if I were to offer you a similar invitation to my church to listen to my sermon, to hear my teaching, would you do so? Would you and your friends here be able to be as open-minded as you insist I should?” “Of course not!” he said. “That’s a problem,” I explained “for I see that you are not being very consistent .”

Trying to steer the conversation back to the reason why he came to my home he inquired once again, “Will you not come? I admit that I am not being consistent, but if you came to our meeting you would learn what we believe about this (the Lord’s Supper, what he continually called a memorial service) and in time might learn the truth.” Laughing a bit at his persistence I countered, “Why do you take communion?” (Now, I already knew that only the “anointed” in their cult were allowed to participate in taking communion at their memorial service, and the higher ups keep a running count of who claims to be of the “anointed class;” the 144,000 of Revelation 7:14; 14:1, 3). However, I had my own agenda at the moment and I wanted to make a point to a man that started off the conversation with me pretending to believe the Bible is the authoritative word on the subject of his beliefs.

He did not miss a beat in explaining to me that only the “anointed” could participate in the elements. I told him that I found that peculiar on two accounts. One, the Bible teaches that the disciples of Christ were to “do this in remembrance of [Him]” (Luke 22.19), and what we ought to notice if we read the Scriptures is that this rite was participated in by all members of the Christian community as seen in Acts (cf. 2:42, 46) and specifically in 1Cor 11:20-32. Two, on what grounds do you attempt to limit participation in what Christ commanded? From where do you get the designation “anointed” only, as the only class of Christians that may participate in the Lord’s Supper? Surely, the Bible does not teach this. Neither the Christ nor His apostles taught this, so why do you?

At this point he tried to show me Rev 21:17 where the text speaks of measuring the wall of the temple and its measurement is “144 cubits.” He then said, “This coincides with the 144,000….” I interrupted at this point, “You mean the 144,000 from the 12 tribes of Israel spoken of earlier in the book?” “Yes,” he said “this coincides with…” Again, I interjected “what’s a cubit?” “What?” he said. “Oh, well a cubit coincides with….” “No,” I stopped him “what is a cubit?” When he attempted the same song and dance I said to him, “A cubit is a unit of measurement isn’t it, similar to a foot?” “Yes, but it coincides with….” “the 144,000?” I finished. “Right, that’s right,” he told me without any hesitation.

I pointed out “Nope, that’s wrong. Rev 21:17 is speaking about a unit of measurement not a grouping of people. You are taking that text out of context and adding your own meaning to it, just as you do with the Lord’s Supper. Jesus told his followers to do this ‘in remembrance of him’ because it is His blood that paid the ransom price for our sinful lives. Jesus became a curse (cf. Gal 3.13), he became sin even though He never sinned, so that we might become the righteousness of God (cf. 2Cor 5.21). Jesus died to save His people from their sins (Matt 1.21),” I explained.

I continued, “The problem is that we do not believe in the same Jesus, we do not believe in the same God of Scripture—who is Triune in nature—for my God did for me what I could not do for myself. My works, my choice is not what saved me, my Lord saved me and I cannot deny my Lord.” He then attempted to adopt the same language as I had used for a few moments, but I ended up stopping him. I explained, “You use the same language that I use, but you do not mean the same things. The Father sent the Son into the world to die for His people (people given to Him by the Father), and the Son laid down His life for His people, and the Holy Spirit raises Christ’s people up regenerating them.”

With a look of confusion on his face he proceeded to say, “Though much of what you say Kris is true; much of what you say is ignorant and it comes from your ignorance.” Laughing a bit, I told him “Since you called me ignorant, I must ask have you not read? ‘God chose the weak out of the world, the poor out of the world and the foolish out of the world…’ (1Cor 1.27-28; paraphrased) you call me an ignoramus and that’s fine; God called me, I am His, and I cannot deny Him. He saved me from hell…but you my friend, you do not have this.”

Closing Thoughts…

About this point, you may have wondered if I forgot what I opened up with at that beginning of this post, but I have not forgotten. After my last statement my dialogue with this J.W. grew a bit animated. His disdain for the doctrine of hell became apparent. He identified my God as one who is wrathful and cruel. He said, “What sort of awful God would condemn a person like us, who lives what? Seventy or Eighty years to an eternity in torment! A loving God would never do such a thing, that wouldn’t be fair…seventy years for forever!?! God destroys those who do not faith in Him, who do not freely choose Him…He wouldn’t do what you suggest.” In the remaining couple of minutes in our conversation I asked if he believed God was truly holy and tried to explain the depths of our sin and need for Jesus as a substitute, but he would have none of it.1 He left in a hurry and I prayed for the man and the people who were with him.

This reaction of disdain and disgust is the norm when a person reads the commands of God, and the penalties that follow for our sin against Him. People have made God into an idol. They have elevated one or a few of His attributes, like love or goodness, above all others. The moment that God does not fit the mold that people have formed in their hearts of who they believe the God of the Bible should be, they offhandedly reject Him.

God is more than the supposed defining mark of love and goodness. He is also holy and therefore hates sin. He is Just and therefore, as judge delves out justice in all cases. God is many things, for many attributes are given in Scripture that accurately define His perfect characteristics (i.e. character/nature), but to elevate one over and above another gives a disproportionate view of who He is; and, is therefore by definition an idol. To do that with the God of Scripture is to take His Name in vain and blaspheme Him. This, ironically or not, warrants a penalty of a death sentence; to which (no surprise here!) people complain about, as being much too harsh. And to that kind of thinking I will respond with the words of the late R.C. Sproul, “What is wrong with you people!”

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ENDNOTES:

1 I also spent some time with him in John 12:37-41 and Isaiah 6:1-10 proving that Jesus was the one whose glory Isaiah saw in the past as Yahweh (Jehovah), but no matter how clear the text was before him (even in his New Word Translation—NWT) he was confused by what he was reading and hearing (cf. Acts 9.22).